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Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

God's Mighty Acts Proclaim His Son's Coming - Pastor John Roekle

December 23, 2018 [Advent 4] Luke 1:39-55 J.D.Roekle

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

holy is his name.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,

even as he said to our fathers.”

God’s Mighty Acts Proclaim His Son’s Coming

Dear Friends in Christ,

How do we know Christmas is coming? Unless you’re a hermit – and you don’t go out, don’t turn on the TV or computer or use your phone – then you can’t help seeing all the signs. The stores start filling up their stock with Christmas related things already in September it seems. The decorations in downtown, including the big Christmas tree on monument square was put up before Thanksgiving. Christmas music is found on more and more radio stations earlier and earlier it seems. The closer we get the more Christmas related gatherings and events there are. Even if you don’t look at a calendar, you know Christmas is almost here.

How do we know that Christ is coming? During the Advent season, we typically remind ourselves of various aspects of the fact that Christ is returning. On the first Sunday in Advent, Jesus said: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

Before Jesus came the first time, too, there were various signs given of the arrival of the Son of God into the world. Many of the prophets proclaimed those signs. In fact, on Christmas Eve, the Sunday School children will talk all what the prophet Isaiah said about the coming Messiah.

And right here in our text for today, God uses signs. We see God proclaiming the coming of his Son through mighty acts. There are three mighty acts of God we will focus on here: 1. An unborn infant leaps for joy. 2. A woman recognizes the mother of God’s Son. 3. A lowly virgin praises the Savior-God.

Mary had been visited by the angel Gabriel who revealed some extraordinary news to her. She was going to have a baby. It was extraordinary on various levels. For one, she had never had intimate relations with a man including her fiancée Joseph. For another, she was told that the baby would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. And finally, she was told who this child would be: the Son of the Most High. The Son of God!

That’s some huge news to deal with especially if you’re just a young lady like Mary was. She was prompted by the angel to give her relative Elizabeth a visit, since the angel spoke of the miracle happening with Elizabeth: she was pregnant in her old age! It is at the house of Elizabeth where the incident in our text takes place.

Mary’s arrival at the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah set of a series of mighty acts that were only possible through God’s power. The first thing miracle that took place was the baby – later known as John the Baptist – Elizabeth was carrying leapt in her womb.

Now much of the time, this wouldn’t be a big deal. Babies often move in their mother’s wombs. And sometimes, it might be because of the mother’s words or sudden movements. But this wasn’t the case here. The baby John leapt because this was Mary, the mother of Jesus.

How could John have possibly known that? Mary’s voice wasn’t familiar to him. John’s brain wasn’t developed enough at that point for him to understand such things. The only explanation we can give, is that it was by the power of God that this happened. When the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth was going to have a son, Gabriel told him that John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.

God can do some extraordinary things with babies. Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit works faith into the hearts of infants. Faith that knows and trusts Jesus. The mighty act of John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb was simple compared to turning the hearts of sinners to God.

The second extraordinary thing to happen was the fact that Elizabeth knew all about Mary’s news even before Mary announced it to her. This was much more than a woman’s intuition. There is no way Elizabeth could have known on her own that Mary was the one woman in history that would have the privilege of carrying the Savior. Also, she knew that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but hadn’t consummated their marriage yet. Also, there’s would have been no clear sign that Mary was pregnant. She just heard the news herself and the Holy Spirit had likely conceived the child in her womb only days before.

So how could Elizabeth have possibly known? It was God’s doing. “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” It was the Holy Spirit who had revealed so much to Elizabeth through the Word. That there would be a woman someday whose seed would crush the serpent’s head. And now, the Holy Spirit connected the dots for Elizabeth. He had chosen to reveal to Elizabeth that this woman was standing in her presence. Elizabeth was moved to proclaim: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

The Holy Spirit continues to connect the dots for us today too. He gives us his Word. He gives us everything we need to know in his Word. And through his Word, he does powerful things. He moves us act and move and speak according to his good purpose.

Why was Mary blessed? Perhaps that seems too obvious. She a one-of-a-kind woman. The only one in the history of the world to be privileged to carry and give birth to the Son of God. No one else can claim that. And no one else ever will be able to.

While that was a special blessing for Mary, it was far from her greatest blessing. We might wonder: What could be a greater blessing than that! Jesus can put it into perspective for us. As Jesus was driving out a demon and teaching, there was a lady in the crowd who spoke up and said: “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Do you know how Jesus replied? He didn’t give praise to Mary as we might expect at that moment. Instead, he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.

Jesus’ point was that the gift of faith was far superior to being his earthly mother. As great a privilege as it was, it didn’t get Mary anywhere. But her God-given faith which showed itself in the way she conducted her life was the best blessing she could have had.

And you know, Mary recognized that too. After John’s leap in the womb and after hearing the Spirit-filled words of Elizabeth, Mary was moved to praise God. And she said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary recognized her very need for a Savior. She knew that she too was a sinner deserving only of God’s condemnation. And she recognized that the child she was carrying had come to be that Savior. The Savior of the world, and her Savior.

In fact, Mary was so firmly convinced by faith that this child was her Savior and the world’s Savior, that she expressed what he would do as if he had already done it. She knew that when it comes to God, what he promises to do is as good as done even if it won’t be fulfilled until many years later.

As Christmas approaches, we are often once again led to count our blessings. We’re often spoiled, aren’t we? But don’t forget the greatest blessing. You have a Savior! God gives you faith in that Savior. That Savior is the one whose birth we will soon celebrate. That Savior is the one who lived and died and rose for you. It is that same Savior that will return. How do you know that Christ will return? He says so, and he gives us the signs to remind us of that truth.

So as you anticipate his return, think of it as if it has already happened. Because it surely will! Faith grasps onto the fact that God always tells the truth. He cannot do otherwise. And God’s mighty acts proclaim his Son’s coming! Amen.

True Repentance Leads to True Joy - Pastor John Roekle

December 16, 2018 [Advent 3] Luke 3:7-18 J.D.Roekle

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

True Repentance Leads to True Joy

Dear Friends in Christ,

If you read the inside cover in the bulletin, you may have noted that the church historically has had certain Latin titles for the Sundays in the church year. The third Sunday in Advent – today – is called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete means “rejoice.” In the gathering rite, we lit the third candle which symbolizes joy. We also sang “Rejoice, Rejoice Believers.” So this Sunday is all about joy. The lesson from Zechariah encourages us to “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart.” The lesson from Philippians tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” But in the Gospel lesson – the lesson we are considering now – where is the theme of rejoicing? It seems to be missing. John the Baptist’s tone is very serious. The theme of his words deals with repentance, a very serious topic. But let’s not miss John’s point here. His point is true repentance leads to a deep and inescapable joy. That’s because true repentance leads to change – a change in how we think and act.

John the Baptist had the privilege of preparing the way for Christ. How did he do that? By “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Many of the people who came to John, wanted to have their sins forgiven.

That’s what makes John’s words here so striking. He calls them a “brood of vipers.” The offspring of poisonous snakes. Jesus had once called the religious leaders of the day a “brood of vipers.” Evidently the people in the crowd had swallowed the poison of their religious fathers. And what poison was that? They weren’t seeking true repentance.

You see, they believed that even though they were sinners, they could receive both salvation from “the coming wrath” – God’s judgment – and continue on in their sins.

To be saved from God’s judgment, the crowd John was talking to was relying on two things. One was going through the motions of religious rites. If they only lead a religious life and do all they are supposed to, then that was the magic formula for making God happy. The other thing they relied on was their heritage. Since they were children of Abraham, they considered themselves automatically children of God.

But John the Baptist made it clear that neither one of these things would mean anything on the day of wrath when Christ returns. What matters is a living faith which will produce fruit.

Do we sometimes fall into the same trap John the Baptist’s crowd did? Do we come to church because it makes up for our sins during the week? Do we think that giving 5% of our income to church cancels out the materialism that is evident in the way we think about and utilize the other 95% of our income? Perhaps we think that being WELS – part of the Wisconsin Synod – automatically makes us children of God. Do we come to church to hear about Christ’s forgiveness so that we can simply feel comfortable in continuing in the same sins?

If any of those thoughts occupy your mind, keep in mind that they are part of the viper’s poison which has its beginning in the serpent who first poisoned the minds of Adam and Eve. None of those things can possibly spare us from God’s wrath on the Last Day.

“I thought we were talking about joy,” you may be thinking by now. Yes, this is difficult stuff. John’s message is hard to hear. But it is designed to crush us. To crush our sinful selves. To crush our false ideas and false hopes. To make us realistic about our sin so that we can have true joy. Sorrow over our sins can be truly healthy. Not simply being sorry for getting caught in a sin, or being sorry that we will experience negative consequences for what we’ve done. It is the sorrow we feel in knowing that we have offended our Creator! It is the sorrow in knowing that we deserve his eternal damnation.

We need to focus on this regularly, so that we can find a greater and lasting joy. John said that someone “more powerful than I will come.” He was, of course, pointing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In focusing on our sin, we are then to focus on him. He’s the only one who can save. That’s why John the Baptist made a point of focusing on Jesus. Jesus would come to “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John then preached the Good News about Jesus to them. And what Good News Jesus provides!

Think of your life as a tree. How healthy is your tree? How tall is it, and how much fruit does it have on it? Now picture Jesus as a tree? How majestic is that tree? Since John describes fruitfulness here in terms of being generous, and kind, and compassionate, the Jesus-tree would have branches that are so heavy with fruit that they are practically touching the ground. When God looks at our tree with very little or no fruit, he picks up his ax and is ready to chop us down. It is then that Jesus intercedes and begs: “No, Father! Don’t cut them down! Cut me down instead.” And we see the Father doing just that as we see Jesus hanging on the tree of the cross. Jesus’ words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” tell us that God threw Jesus into the fire. And he spared us instead!

This would be extremely sad, except that the Jesus tree came back to life. And it was even stronger and more beautiful than before. Knowing this, let the truth sink in: God loves you. He wanted you. He chose you. God was willing to pay anything to spend eternity with you!

How can that not make you joyful! And in our joy we respond: “What should we do then?” First of all, value the robe of Christ’s righteousness that he clothed you with in Holy Baptism. Strive to keep it clean. How do we go about doing that?

Well, look at what John the Baptist told his listeners. To the entire crowd, he told them to share what they had. Specifically to the tax collectors, he told them not to cheat people out of their money. To the soldiers, he told them not to intimidate people with their power and to be content with what they had.

Note here that John was not telling them that they were to do anything extraordinary or heroic. He wasn’t telling them to leave their current jobs. He was just simply telling them to avoid the sins that are common to whatever their walk of life was. Instead, they were to live for Christ. That is what we are also to do. We are to reflect the love of Christ in all we do. In whatever walk of life we are in. In whatever roles we have.

John the Baptist uses some pretty heavy language. In talking about repentance, he speaks words that are difficult to digest. But don’t miss the joy that is implied in his words. True repentance leads to true joy when we focus on our Savior and what he has done for us. And this leads to the joyful realization of the perfect future he has planned for you. In the meantime, we live joyful and thankful lives, lives that are full of fruit. Amen.

Surely the day is coming! - Pastor John Roekle

November 18, 2018 [Last Judgment] Malachi 4:1,2a J.D.Roekle

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the LORD Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.”

Surely the day is coming!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Surely the day is coming! If you live in the heavily forested areas of California, you know that it’s coming at some point. It may not be in your lifetime, but it’s bound to happen. I’m talking about forest fires. Recent fires have been raging for quite a while now, and the threat always seems to be there. We probably can’t imagine the size of these fires, because we don’t have much to compare it to around here. Take for example the so called “Camp Fire” which is an active fire north of Sacramento still blazing since November 8. It is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. 146,000 acres have been burned. Nearly 12,000 structures – including homes – have been burned. There have been 71 killed in the fires. And it is still only about half contained.

Surely the day is coming! It is the day on which our Lord returns. Judgment Day. It will be a day of extremes. It will be a day characterized by destruction, sorrow, weeping and despair. But it will also be a day of rebirth, joy, celebration, and everlasting contentment. No wonder that Malachi, in a later verse, calls Judgment Day: “that great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

What are your feelings about that day? Are they feelings of dread? Or do you look forward to that day? Some of the things associated with that day may put fear in our hearts.

Malachi says that this day “will burn like a furnace.” The idea of a destructive fire immediately hits us. When we think of hell, we think of fire the Bible associates with it. But the reference here is to that of a refiner’s fire. When something such as gold or silver is refined, it is done to get rid of all its impurities.

On the last day, the Lord will get rid of all the impure. Who are those impure? The Lord explains: “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the LORD Almighty.”

God’s judgment will be on all the arrogant and every evildoer. There are many people who display arrogance by challenging God. At times, we can see why they might. Often times, it seems that wickedness goes unchecked. They think along the lines that the Psalmist writes: “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” [Psalm 10:11] They think: God isn’t going to do anything about it! I’m doing fine – in fact, I’m doing better than that person who isn’t indulging himself in these sinful activities. Because their sinful activities are not immediately judged, they mistakenly think that God is going to do nothing about defying him.

But God makes it clear that these evildoers will not get away with anything. God promises that he will rid himself of all the impure. He says that they will be “set on fire”. Yes, they will be judged, and God will rid himself of them.

Those who defy God, those who reject his grace and mercy will be separated from God; purged from God’s sight. They will be sent to the continual fires of hell. And this won’t be a partial judgment: God will do a complete job. Malachi: “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.”

If you have ever cut down a large tree, you know how difficult it is to take out the whole system of roots, since they go so deep and are so widespread. God doesn’t have that problem in his judgment. God will completely destroy all who are impure. God’s judgment of evil will be complete. No longer will evil or evildoers exist in his presence!

Maybe that frightens us. After all we know that we do evil in the Lord’s sight with our every sin. Are we really that much different from the murderer or robber? Don’t we also defy God when we sin? We are not always kind and considerate to everyone, and especially to the ones closest to us. There are sinful things that we did in the past that come back to haunt us and still irritate us and make us feel guilty. As long as we live here on earth, sin is unfortunately a close companion of ours.

These things may frighten us when we think of Jesus’ return. Is he going to punish us when he returns? Is God going to judge us and separate us from himself? That’s when we need to remember the other side of judgment. While he casts some away from himself, others he will keep close to him.

Who does he keep close to himself? The Lord says in our text:

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” Those who revere, who respect, who fear the name of the Lord Almighty will be spared in his judgment.

And why? Because of that sun of righteousness that rises. Where there was once darkness because of our sin, a sun has risen. The Son has risen and brightened up our lives. You know who that Son is – it is Jesus Christ.

And on Judgment Day, that Son will mean great things for us. After John the Baptist was born, his father Zechariah sang a song which included these words: “the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

This Son, Jesus Christ, did exactly as Zechariah predicted. He brought us out of darkness, and out of the threat of eternal death, and at peace with our Heavenly Father. All who are in the rays of this Son as he shines, are healed of their sin, and don’t need to fear God’s judgment.

How does this Son heal us? Listen to Isaiah (53:5) “But he (this Son) was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

He healed us of the damage we did to ourselves with our sins, by taking on the punishment for us. The hymn writer describes this healer:

There is a Balm in Gilead

to make the wounded whole.

There is a Balm in Gilead,

to heal the sin-sick soul.”

Thank God that you know and trust that balm. Thank God that you can rest securely under the rays of the Son of God, who heals you with his life and death, putting his own righteousness in your account.

Who do you know that needs that balm? Who needs to hear the truth that the Savior Jesus has come to heal them of their sin-sick soul? You can lead them to the healing that they need. You can point them to the Balm in Gilead. You can tell them about Jesus and his love and what he has done for them.

The time to do that is now. Why? Surely, the day is coming! Like the forest fires in California, we can’t predict exactly when, but it is certain. We have God’s own Word on it. Knowing that day is coming, makes the message we have urgent. We need to get it out.

Again, how do you feel about Judgment Day coming? I pray that you are looking forward to it. That’s when our Savior returns for us! Isn’t that exactly the confidence you want that unbelieving friend or relative to have?! So that they too can stand with you in awe of the Savior who has healed you so that you can spend eternity with him. Amen.